College football: La. Tech opens conference play Friday night at home against FIU

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Courtesy Darrell James ... Tech RB Jaqwis Dancy scored a pair of touchdowns in a win over Bowling Green last week.

Brock McKee, Louisiana Tech Associate Communications Director

The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs will be looking for their third straight victory when they host Florida International in their Conference USA Friday night at Joe Aillet Stadium (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network).

The Bulldogs (2-1) are coming off a 35-7 road win over Bowling Green. Meanwhile, FIU (1-2, 0-1) enters the game on the heels of its first win of the year, a 30-17 victory over New Hampshire.

FIU’s losses have come against Tulane and WKU.

This is the fourth overall meeting between the Bulldogs and Panthers and the first in Ruston since 2015. The Bulldogs lead the all-time series with the Panthers 3-0 and are a combined 4-1 against Florida C-USA schools (FIU and FAU). The Bulldogs have played either FIU or FAU every year except one in their 7 years in C-USA, despite playing in the West Division.

FIU has never started a C-USA season 0-2 since joining the league in 2013. Tech has won the previous three meetings in the series by 16 points or more, including a 27-7 decision in 2015 in Ruston.

Over the first three games of 2019, the Tech defense has been slowly but surely making strides under new D-coordinator, Bob Diaco.

The Bulldogs have adopted the “bend without breaking” mantra and have been one of the top defensive teams in the red zone this season. Tech has posted the fourth-best red-zone defense in the country, allowing its opponents just six scores in 12 attempts.

In fact, the Bulldogs have already forced four opponent turnovers on downs in the red zone this season after combining for four total turnovers on downs in the red zone over the past five seasons combined.

Tech junior conerback Amik Robertson turned in an outstanding showing in the Bulldogs 35-7 victory at Bowling Green last Saturday.  While helping hold the Falcons scoreless over the final 57:14. He registered a career-high 10 tackles and two TFL’s.  

Robertson also recorded his 10th career interception, which returned 36 for a touchdown, the second pick-six of his career. That TD was the first of 35 unanswered points for the Bulldogs.

For his defensive efforts last Saturday, Robertson was recognized as the LSWA Co-Defensive Player of the Week as well as earning recognition on PFF College’s Conference USA Defensive Team of the Week along with fellow cornerback Michael Sam.

Tech senior quarterback J’Mar Smith completed 19 of his 26 passes for 267 yards and a pair of touchdowns at Bowling Green, leading to a season-high 35 points for the Bulldogs.

Smith added a pair of 40-plus-yard completions on the day, bringing his total to four through LA Tech’s first three games.  The four-year starter has posted a 68.6% completion percentage through his first three contests of 2019.  Of 30 FBS quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts in 2019, Smith has posted the 7th highest completion percentage.

Smith has also been the most accurate he’s been in his career so far this season. The senior signal caller has thrown for at least a 66.7% in each of his first three games in 2019. Coming into this year, he had only accomplished that feat twice in his previous 27 starts.

Junior running back Justin Henderson broke off a career-long 75-yard run late in the second quarter to set up a Bulldog touchdown last week at Bowling Green. 

It was the longest run by a Bulldog since Boston Scott registered a 77-yard rush against Arkansas State in the 2015 New Orleans Bowl.  Henderson finished the game with a career-high 95 yards on nine attempts.

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